Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Heat and Raptors Strike a Deal- JO for the Matrix

In the first significant trade of “Deadline Week”, it’s been reported that the Toronto Raptors have agreed to send Jermaine O’Neal and Jamario Moon to the Miami Heat in exchange for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks.

It takes some time to determine a trade’s winner and loser from a basketball perspective, but this trade, and presumably several more this season, was financially motivated, and from that standpoint it’s much easier to assess its effect on each team.

Obviously the Jermaine O’Neal experiment in Toronto didn’t work out, and unloading his massive contract ($44.3 million this season and next) is the NBA’s version of a “Get Out Of Jail Free” card. Also, by swapping O’Neal for Shawn Marion (and his expiring $17.2 million contract), Bryan Colangelo not only positioned Toronto to be comfortably under the cap by the summer of 2010, potentially allowing the Raps to pursue a primetime free-agent to either a) give Chris Bosh a top-tier partner-in-crime, persuading him to stick around, or b) fill the void left by Bosh (if he leaves) by pursuing multiple quality free-agents. Additionally, the NBA’s revenue will reportedly be hard hit by the current economic crisis, resulting in a lower salary cap (under $60 million next season). Against this backdrop, financial flexibility and the reduction of large, long-term commitments are more important than ever, and by reducing their by 2009-10 payroll by more than $18 million (Marcus Banks will make $4.4 million next year), the Raptors look to be the winners in this deal.

The Miami Heat, on the other hand, approached this trade from a basketball perspective, seemingly replacing Marion’s production (12 ppg, 8.7 rpg in 36 minutes/game) and addressing a need for a paint presence as they look to make a run at the playoffs (and keep D-Wade happy). It’s no secret that Pat Riley is fan of big men, and he’s obviously betting that’s what he’s getting in whatever is left of Jermaine O’Neal, who, to be fair, has played well, if not consistently, this season, but has been banged up. He should be a factor on defense and on the glass, but hardly represents a decent value. At just under $23 million, O’Neal’s on the books for more money next season than any player except Tracy McGrady. In the current environment, not many teams are likely to trade for a role player with that big a price tag, even one with an expiring contract- like it or not, the Heat are stuck with J.O. through next season.

On a brighter note, Miami’s new starting small forward, Jamario Moon, who makes about 1/30th of O’Neal’s salary and is playing for a new contract, could prove to be a bigger factor down the stretch for the Heat. In just 25 minutes per game with Toronto this season, Moon, who’s younger and every bit as athletic as Marion, has averaged 7.3 points, 4.6 rebounds and more than a steal per game- numbers which are likely to get a boost from more minutes, especially those spent playing alongside Dwyane Wade.

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